"The pamphlet has a specific target audience which does not include youngsters who are thinking about trying heroin or other intravenous drugs," said Heimer. "It was not distributed in any setting where there are large numbers of middle or high school students. Teenagers these days are more likely to see explicit heroin use in a rated 'R' movie than they are to come across this pamphlet."
The New York City Department of Health reports that accidental overdose is the fourth leading cause of early adult death in New York City, claiming more than 600 lives a year. Additionally, one third of those living with HIV contracted the virus through injection drug use.
"The pamphlet provides potentially lifesaving advice for people until they get into treatment," says the health department. The first page of the pamphlet is a warning message: "Get Help and Support to Stop Using Drugs -- Call 1-800-LifeNet or 311 Anytime Day or Night."
The cost of the pamphlet is also controversial -- more than $32,000. Many think the city of New York wasted valuable dollars on a pamphlet that sends the wrong message.
"I think it's indefensible and a waste of taxpayer funds. Just about anything would be a better use of money than this. Issuing a government guide which purports the use of heroin is grossly irresponsible," said New York City Councilman Peter F. Vallone, Jr.
Desjarlais disagreed, saying the $32,139 spent on the pamphlets was much less than the $2-300,000 it can cost to treat any one individual with HIV or AIDS.
Heimer said, "If it prevents just 10 people from getting an abscess, or one person from getting HIV, or just one overdose death, the pamphlet would have paid for itself many times over."